On the Farm: The Delano Farm

This is me on the right with my little brother Jimmy, sitting in the dirt in back of the old Delano farm house.

As I wrote previously, I lived on a farm near Montevideo, Minnesota when I was about six and seven years old, and then later when I was about ten and eleven. In between those years we lived on a small farm near Delano, Minnesota. I have no memory of school there (3rd and 4th grade), but I have plenty of other memories.

The house was quite small and rickety—much smaller and older than the large Montevideo house. The ceiling leaked, the walls creaked, and the inside of the walls were infested with mice. We would hear them all the time. Though my mom and sister hated them, me and Mark had fun killing them with mouse traps. We would get at least one a day.

Another house adventure was the attic. Dad did some repairs to the attic and to the steps leading up there, but it still looked like an attic. And that’s where us kids would sleep. It wasn’t cold up there like the Montevideo farm was; but it was musty, and we could hear the mice; and once in a while we would even see and hear bats flying back and forth over our heads while we hid under the covers. That was scary. I think my mom felt sorry for us, but my dad didn’t seem to care.

Oh, I’m sure he cared, but I know he had so much on his mind. We were not making it too well financially, and I suppose he was always thinking of any way possible to make more money to hold the farm and the family together. And I know mom wasn’t happy in that house, and any suggestions she gave dad made him angry. I don’t know if it was her idea or not, but I remember that dad worked part time at a macaroni factory in town. I remember that he brought leftover macaroni home, probably swept up from the factory floor, and fed it to the pigs. He actually made a pig slop out of it; he mixed the raw macaroni with feed and sour milk. Oh, those pigs just loved it! They would go crazy over it! In fact, when we fed them, we had to be really careful, because when they would see us heading their way with a pail of slop, they would come running and squealing. If we didn’t quickly dump it in their trough and get out of the way, they would run us over.

We had a few acres of farm land, mainly corn; and we had one or two cows, some chickens, and about 30 pigs, as I mentioned. They were penned up only about 20 yards from the house. I remember that every time my grandpa and grandma came over to visit, they would always be holding their nose—literally. They couldn’t stand the pig smell.  But I didn’t mind at all. I guess you get use to it; and I really sort of liked that farm smell.

I have such vivid memories of that little farm, especially the back yard. Not too far from the back of the house, across from the pig pen was an old windmill, used to pump water. And it worked! Then not too far from the windmill there was a row of fruit trees; mainly apple trees, but also a pear tree. Mom would sometimes make apple pies from the apples.  And I remember, she would also make chokecherry jam from the chokecherry trees (pictured), which were scattered all over the farm. Mom was really good at making stuff. Besides making pies and jam, she baked bread—which was always wonderful.

We had one of those old-fashioned telephones that you had to crank. And it was a party-line phone—so you had to share it with the neighbors. We didn’t have many neighbors. But I remember up the gravel road, about a quarter mile, was a farm on the right with a crab apple tree and geese walking all over in the yard. Across from that farm, on the left, was an underground house with a flat roof that was about three feet above the ground level.

Then, a little way from that house was an old farm house, more like a shack, where two old bachelors lived, and where they often sat out on their back steps. We liked hanging around them, listening to their stories and watching them whittle their sticks. And they had a distinctive smell of tobacco and beer. Yea, they were a couple of happy, carefree guys, and I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like them!

This is me on the gravel road in front of the house.

On the Farm: The Chores

This isn’t me, but that ‘s how I remember it. I had a pail just like that, and a stool like that. But I never had a hat like that!

Farm chores consist of those daily duties that just have to be done, like milking the cows, feeding the animals and gathering the eggs. In our farm, my dad took charge of all the duties, but he liked to keep us kids busy too. His idea was that the whole family should work the farm. We did have some hired help from time to time, but it seemed like us kids did most of the work.

As I mentioned previously, there were two periods of time when I lived at the Montevideo farm: when I  was about 7 and 8, and then again when I was about 11 and 12. When I was at the younger age I don’t think I did a lot with the animals—although I’m sure I wanted to. I was more restricted to the menial, mindless tasks like weeding the garden and hauling water from the well to the house. I hated that job! It was a long way to go and the water buckets were so heavy. I don’t know why I was always stuck with that job. I guess because there was no one else.

When I was at the older age, I filled in much more with the chores. My sister, two years older, helped out some too, and so did my younger brother. The chore I liked the most was milking the cows, which had to be done twice a day: in the early morning and again in the evening at about 6. Most of the milking was done by hand; I think we did have one milk machine. My dad milked most of the cows, but I did my share of the milking too—for every three cows he milked, I probably milked one; not bad for a kid. We had about 30 cows to milk, so it took us a while. And it was a real workout, especially for your fingers and forearms.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened during the school months. Did us kids help out with the chores before and after school? Or maybe that’s when we had hired-help, or maybe mom filled in. Some things, like school were just a blur. Other things I do remember quite vividly.

Yea, I remember the dirty, stinky jobs like cleaning the gutters in the barn. That job definitely had to be done every day after the cows went out to pasture, and sometime even while they remained in the barn—when it was too cold to let them go out. We would scoop out the manure with a flat shovel into a wheel barrow, and then wheel it out the barn door. And that took some strength and skill.  You had to steer it on these planks all the way to the end of the manure pile, and then dump it. And if you would go off the plank—that usually didn’t happen—it would be a disaster and a mess! Can you imagine sinking hip deep in manure, while struggling to keep the wheel barrow afloat?

Sometimes I was charged with bringing the cows home from the pasture. Usually, they would come in by themselves; but sometimes, for some reason, they just didn’t show up. So my dad would say, go find those cows!

I didn’t always like all the walking, but, at the same time it was sort of fun and adventurous: walking across the creek, up the hill and through the trees, all the while following the cow paths. If you stayed on the cow paths you would usually find the cows. Often, I would run right into them, walking slowly home. Yea, they knew their way home. They were just slow and lazy in coming…so I would hurry them along by gently swatting them with a stick.

I would also be tasked with herding the sheep, and basically just watching them. If they would get into the alfalfa fields, that’s bad news because they can get bloated and die—and that happed a couple times. And there were also cases when wild dogs or coyotes would attack and kill the lambs. All kinds of things can happen. Sheep don’t have a lot of good sense, and if one gets in trouble, other will follow. So, we had to watch them, especially when we let them roam around.

I can’t remember too much about feeding the animal; but that is, of course, the most important chore which my dad handled—but I know I help out.

Here’s one thing I vividly remember doing in the fall and winter months: I helped dad keep coal and wood in our furnace. It was a large furnace located in the basement. And since it was the only source of heat available for our two-story house, it was important that we kept it going constantly. My dad would get these old boards—I’m not sure where he got them—and we would break them up by resting them against a wall or something, and then jumping on them until they broke. And he would also chop down small trees with an ax; he also let me use the ax. Great fun! I didn’t mind the work at all. Using the ax was worth all the callouses.

When it would get especially cold, we had to work extra hard to keep the furnace going. But apparently, there are things you are not supposed to do—like overload the furnace. I guess we managed not to do that, but I heard from my dad years after we moved away, that the next resident had overloaded the furnace and the house burnt down! I never heard whether everyone got out alive or not.